The Lady Lever has a knack for quietly putting on world-class exhibitions. True to form, it is now hosting the Hunterian Gallery in Glasgow’s touring exhibition, German Revolution Expressionist Prints, which welcomes back visitors after the gallery’s recent enforced closure.
Over three rooms, prints made by artists reacting to the 1918-1919 Revolution and exploring its social, political, moral and sexual consequences, and some earlier prints which acted as key influences, are displayed in an intimate (Covid-19 appropriate) setting.
The prints are beautiful. Some are so detailed with such fine strokes that they resemble painstaking pencil sketches. The size of the prints, dim lighting and the deep red which continues through the three galleries serve to create a deeply personal experience.
Works by world famous artists such as Picasso, Munch, Dix and Schiele will ensure footfall, but it is the work by lesser known artists (at least to non-art historians) which is particularly striking. Max Beckmann’s The Martyrdom (Das Martyrium) depicts the 1919 execution of Rosa Luxembourg, one of the leaders of the revolution, at the hands of the Freikorps. The idea of the suffering of the city of Berlin, rather than Christ, in the Stations of the Cross is to jolt the viewer in to the reality shown in the print. Another unsettling print is Max Beckmann’s 1922 lithograph Die Nacht (Night) which depicts inhabitants of an apartment crammed in to an attic and whose acute angles depict the claustrophobia and awkwardness of the living conditions that faced the Berlin poor.
The galleries cover different areas: Love And Anxiety; A Bridge To Utopia and Conflict And Despair. They document chaotic times in Germany’s history with a gentleness and lightness of touch that makes it an affecting experience, and one which helps to provide an insight into the tumultuous times. It means that even those without a historical grasp of the period will be moved.
The artists deal with the effects of the Revolution in different ways. While some wandered into realms of fantasy as a means of escape, others mirrored the turbulence of the period. By far the most hard-hitting works are in the Conflict And Despair section which depicts the struggles of the lower working class, including some pieces by Käthe Kollwitz. The prints very much represent the perspective of the oppressed and poor using Biblical allusions and satire to imbue the subjects with sympathy. The process of print making suited the artists’ intentions of questioning the new society as it enabled them to produce multiple copies, adding to their potential to be used to inform.
It’s a poignant exhibition which documents reactions to a disordered period in history and shows the effects of the unfairness and ensuing injustices which were heaped on the weakest. Go while you can.